Pastors OK with using artificial intelligence for graphic design but not sermons, survey finds


SUWANEE, Ga. — Pastors are comfortable with artificial intelligence for graphic design and marketing but not for preparing sermons, the Barna Group found in a survey done earlier this year.

Barna, an organization that monitors cultural and religious trends in the U.S., said in an article that concerns among pastors about artificial intelligence appear to be easing for some administrative tasks.

In fact, Barna found 88% of 278 senior pastors surveyed in January  were comfortable using AI within the realm of graphic design, and 78 percent said they would be comfortable using the technology to assist with marketing and generating marketing materials.

“Only one in 10 pastors (12%) are comfortable using AI to write sermons — though two in five (43%) see its merits in sermon preparation and research, possibly due to the rise in generative AI tools that compile multiple sources of information into succinct lists,” Barna wrote. “Just 6 percent of U.S. pastors say they are comfortable with using AI as a counseling tool.”

Scott Sullivan, discipleship catalyst for the Georgia Baptist Mission, said  many pastors in the state fear the downside of AI and have been slow to embrace it.

"They understand that technology and AI is not going away, so they are searching for a way to capture the benefits and minimize the destructive possibilities," he said. "I think the key to AI’s usefulness in the local church is going to be 'ethical stewardship.' Can we use it responsibly and not cause more problems than we solve?"

Barna said 95% of the pastors surveyed at least somewhat agree that the increasing use of AI raises concerns about privacy and data security, and three in four (78%) at least somewhat agree that AI could worsen current social inequalities.

“Only 11 percent of Christians see their pastors as someone to help them learn more about AI, and just over one in 10 Christians want to hear from their pastor on developing a theology of AI usage (13%) or learning how AI can be used to grow in their faith (13%),” Barna wrote.

Barna said the those findings should reassure pastors that they don’t need to become AI experts overnight — nor ensure their church is on board with all things artificial intelligence.

“Instead, pastors may want to focus more on guiding congregants on the spiritual and interpersonal aspects of AI, helping them discern when it’s appropriate to use AI and when it’s not.”

The survey was conclusive, Barna wrote, that pastors aren’t on board with ChatGPT-generated sermons or Bible studies.

“Instead, AI can make a difference in churches through its plentiful administrative applications, and through the slow and steady relational work of pastoring, as church leaders shepherd their churches well in ensuring AI is used wisely and not as a substitute for human connection or creativity,” Barna wrote.